Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Climate Change: The danger of a hothouse

Killer heat-waves in Europe. Enormous fires in California and Greece. Historic floods in Japan. Climate change is here. But worse, we may be heading for the hothouse:

A domino-like cascade of melting ice, warming seas, shifting currents and dying forests could tilt the Earth into a “hothouse” state beyond which human efforts to reduce emissions will be increasingly futile, a group of leading climate scientists has warned.

This grim prospect is sketched out in a journal paper that considers the combined consequences of 10 climate change processes, including the release of methane trapped in Siberian permafrost and the impact of melting ice in Greenland on the Antarctic.


Katherine Richardson from the University of Copenhagen, one of the authors, said the paper showed that climate action was not just a case of turning the knob on emissions, but of understanding how various factors interact at a global level.

“We note that the Earth has never in its history had a quasi-stable state that is around 2C warmer than the preindustrial and suggest that there is substantial risk that the system, itself, will ‘want’ to continue warming because of all of these other processes – even if we stop emissions,” she said. “This implies not only reducing emissions but much more.”

Positive feedback and non-linear effects are the biggest threat in the climate system, and not very well understood. The danger of a cascade shifting the climate to a new, much hotter state, is real, though we don't know the trigger points. Which suggests a precautionary approach is needed if we want to avoid catastrophe.